Academic journal article Film & History

From Fidelity to History: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century

Academic journal article Film & History

From Fidelity to History: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century

Article excerpt

From Fidelity to History: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century Scholz, Anne-Marie. New York, NY: Bergahn Books, 2013. 230 pages. $90 hardcover.

It has become seemingly obligatory in contemporary analyses of literature-to-film adaptations to decry the persistence of fidelity discourse, in this case the expectation that the cinematic text should faithfully reproduce the literary original. In From Fidelity to Flistory: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century (2013), however, Ann-Marie Scholz takes a refreshing approach to this programmatic practice. She notes that both older approaches based on fidelity and emergent ones highlighting forms of intermediality tend to privilege relations between multiple genres at the expense of accounting for the material, cultural and ideological forces that inscribe the production of these works at different historical moments. Instead of dismissing fidelity discourses, then, Scholz is interested in analyzing why such responses and debates gain currency in the first place, as well as what they can tell historians about adaptation as a process. She thus approaches the network of textual relations as cultural events "in order to highlight how their relationship to their precursor texts, as well as to their transnational and sociocultural contexts, illuminates changing social and cultural circumstances and offer inroads into reading these films in a novel way" (3).

Scholz's strategy is two-fold. First, drawing on the work of Barbara Klinger, she recasts the process of cinematic adaptation as a form of reception studies, which examines the impact of extratextual processes, ranging from marketing to issues of censorship, upon the film's dissemination and interpretation. Within this context, Scholz incorporates three levels of reception: the relation between the literary text and the director who adapts it, that of the audience's reception of the literary text and subsequently the film, and finally Scholz's own contemporary readings of the uneven processes. Scholz's second strategy extends the work of historian Marc Ferro to situate the act of adaptation within a mode of mediation that can "tap into cultural discourses" while simultaneously creating new, unique interpretations (10). History thus has multiple significations for Scholz, for not only does she bring into play its physical and textual traces, but she also seeks to delineate the history that is created when the new text is produced within a distinct genre, even if, as she points out, that historical intervention is often subconscious.

Scholz examines several case studies to consider two discrete "versions" of reception-asmediation that provide the monograph with its dual structure: West Germany's response to cross-cultural adaptations (1950-1963) and the surge in adaptations of nineteenth century classical novels in the United States during the 1990s. While representing vastly different historical moments and geographical locations, Scholz suggests that together they demonstrate the larger processes of generating cultural meaning in the twentieth century. Part One analyzes the political implications and interpretations of three blockbusters within post-World War II West Germany. Scholz situates both the filmmakers' relations to the original works and to the ensuing critical response via a collage of reviews, press releases, publicity and film stills, print journalism, and marketing posters, and she effectively traces how differences between book and film that were perceived to touch upon issues related to German involvement in the war led to politically charged interpretations. Chapter One, for example, examines the reception of Carol Reed's thriller The Third Man (1949), demonstrating how the film's characters were viewed as metaphorical representations of the opposing political forces in post-war Europe. Chapter Two takes as its subject Sam Spiegel's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958), which U. …

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